Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Free Formula Decreases Breastfeeding Success

Looks like deciding to breastfeed depends on whether or not you get formula at the hospital.

A study of Canadian women reveals that moms who left with free samples of formula are less likely to breastfeed their children. Women who don't get formula samples (nearly 60 percent) are 3.5 times more likely to be breastfeeding after two weeks.

A similar 2005 study looked at U.S. mothers and made similar conclusions: first-time mothers were more likely to breastfeed if they did not receive samples at the hospital. For mothers who had had more than one child, the likelihood was even higher.

What contributes to these results? When women receive formula, they're getting the message that breastfeeding is really hard, that they won't be able to do it. They're urged to use an alternative. So when things do get tricky, they have something available right away - causing more and more women to rely on formula.

Which raises the question - given the reported health benefits of breastfeeding from organizations such as the World Health Organization and UNICEF, why aren't more women discouraged from formula?

There are several possible reasons - first, formula is created by large companies that have a lot of funding. Funding means that they can push product in a way that breastfeeding advocacy groups cannot.

Second, formula is easy to encourage - breastfeeding takes a lot of education, that many women may not have access to. It's quicker and easier to push formula on low-income women who have just given birth than setting up them with counseling on breastfeeding.

But perhaps it's also because there is still so much we don't know for sure about breastfeeding - the debate about it's impact on children changes so frequently that it may be difficult for medical professionals to have a clear stance on breastfeeding vs. formula.

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